The Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Tour – The History of a Lighthouse and the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station

One of the reasons I returned to the Space Coast this year was to take the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Tour; due to Covid-19 restrictions during last year’s Space Coast Road Trip, the tours were cancelled. The Lighthouse Tour combines the history of the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse, which predates the space program, and the history of the space program at Cape Canaveral. Canaveral Tours picks you up at the Port Canaveral Exploration Tower (map below) and takes you onto Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (SFS). On the way to the lighthouse, they take you by several missile launch sites. At the lighthouse, you get a guided tour of the lighthouse and time to wander around the lighthouse museum. After leaving the museum, the tour goes by several historic launch complexes including Complex 14, where John Glenn’s Mercury-Atlas 6 orbital mission launched; Complex 34, where Saturn I and IB rockets were launched and where the tragic Apollo 1 fire occurred; and Complex 26, where the United States’ first satellite, Explorer 1 was launched and where the Air Force Space and Missile Museum is located.

The Canaveral Tours tour bus in front of Launch Complex 14 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station

After entering the Cape Canaveral SFS, the tour drives by several missile launch sites on the way to the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse. The photos in the slide show below show structures at the Minuteman launch site and the Navajo launch site. The last two photos in the slide show are of the launch sites for the Mace missile and the Bumper rocket (renamed German V-2 rockets from World War II).

The first stop on the tour is at the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse. The lighthouse is a bit of a unique one, in that it is made out of iron panels around brickwork. It was funded by Congress in 1859, but construction was delayed by the Civil War and it wasn’t finished until 1868. In 1893, it was moved a mile inland due to erosion concerns; the iron panel construction allowed the Lighthouse to be disassembled for the move. The move and reconstruction was completed in 1894. It is still an active lighthouse, owned by the Space Force but operated by the Coast Guard. The keeper’s house next to the lighthouse is not the original house, but was built to replicate the original and houses the Lighthouse Museum, which tells the history of not only the Lighthouse, but the keepers who kept it operating and their families.

The Cape Canaveral Lighthouse

After the tour leaves the Lighthouse, it stops at Launch Complex 14 (LC-14), the site of two aerospace firsts. First, it was the launch site of the United States’ first ICBM – the SM-65A Atlas in 1957. The second, and more well known, was the launch of the Mercury-Atlas 6 mission in 1962 that made John Glenn the first American to orbit the earth.

The next stop on the tour is another historic launch site: Launch Complex 34 (LC-34). LC-34 is where Saturn 1 and 1B rockets were launched. It’s last launch was the Apollo 7 mission, the first crewed Apollo launch. LC-34 is impressive, but it is also sobering, because it’s the launch site where the tragic Apollo 1 fire claimed the lives astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger B. Chaffee. Off to the side of the complex, there is a memorial for the three astronauts; if you visit, take time to make your way over to it and pay your respects.

The final stop on the tour is Launch Complex 26 (LC-26), which is now the Air Force Space and Missile Museum. LC-26 is where Jupiter IRBMs and Juno rockets where launched. One of the Juno launches placed the United States’ first satellite, Explorer-1 into orbit. Part of the museum is the LC-26’s restored blockhouse, which includes much of the original equipment, including an early computers – a Burroughs MOD 1 Guidance Computer. Inside the exhibit hall next door is a Gemini capsule along with other space program exhibits. Outside of the museum are various rockets including a Delta IV booster and a Titan I, equipment used to support launches, and the complex pads.

The Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Tour is well worth taking. The tour guides, Shelly and Kevin, were very knowledgeable about Cape Canaveral and the space program and the guides at the Lighthouse had a wealth of knowledge about it. If you combine the tour with visits to the KSC Visitors Complex and the American Space Museum in Titusville, you won’t be disappointed. It’s also a good idea to add the Sands Space History Center to your visit as well; unlike the Air Force Space and Missile Museum, it’s just outside the Space Force Station’s gates and open to the public.

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